OCEAN CITY – The resort area lost a legend and a good friend this week when Boardwalk icon Russell B. “Bo” Ruggerio passed away last Saturday at the age of 69 at Atlantic General Hospital after a lengthy illness.
Hundreds gathered yesterday at Ruggerio’s funeral services at Holy Savior Catholic Church to pay their last respects to a man known simply as ‘Bo’ for generations of local residents and visitors to Ocean City. The longtime downtown businessman owned the famous Dutch Bar on the Boardwalk for 30 years and could often be found perched on a stool near the establishment’s entrance, watching over his business and the Boardwalk he loved so much.
In addition, Ruggerio also owned several other Boardwalk shops and downtown businesses including at different times the water balloon game, the Kitchen restaurant complex, a Laundromat, and a taxicab business. Ruggerio also owned several rental properties throughout the downtown area and was for years a stern but fair landlord to countless summer workers in the resort.
Ruggerio was also an active developer in Ocean City and was responsible for several noteworthy projects including the Golden Beach in the downtown area and the Golden Surf on 82nd Street. His most recent project, the Belmont Towers, on which he partnered with Bob and Amy Rothermel, is sprouting out of the downtown landscape.
Throughout the years, Ruggerio touched the lives of just about everybody he came in contact with, whether it was in the form of a warm handshake, a bit of sound advice, a little extra money or a favor for someone who needed a little help.
Fellow downtown businessman and former Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias, now the state delegate for Ocean City and Worcester County, said this week Ruggerio was as much a part of Boardwalk and the downtown area as any of the other familiar icons associated with the attraction.
“Some people referred to him as the Godfather of the Boardwalk,” he said. “Just as there was always those wooden planks, those French Fries, the caramel popcorn, there was always Bo. He was synonymous with the Boardwalk.”
Mathias said he first encountered Ruggerio when he moved to the resort from Baltimore decades ago. He said the two immediately hit it off and have remained close friends over the years, often through thick and thin.
“Bo was a very dear friend to me and my family,” he said. “He was one of the first people I met when I came here all those years ago and he always gave me good advice. Later in his life, he gave my son Trevor very sage advice.”
Mathias said Ruggerio’s often gruff exterior hid a heart of gold that he shared with most of those who came in contact with him. He said the advice Ruggerio doled out was often not pleasant to hear but always invaluable.
“He was a plain-spoken guy,” he said. “Some of the things he told you sometimes hurt, but you needed to hear it. Better to hear it from him than from someone else because you knew he had your best intentions at heart.”
Other long-time friends and business associates also had high praise for Ruggerio this week. For example, Bob Givarz, whose family has run the Alaska Stand on the Boardwalk for 75 years, recalled meeting the downtown icon when he was a young man.
“Bo certainly was a character,” he said. “When I first met him, I was just a teenager but he always treated me with respect. He would always put his arm around me and give me advice about this and that.”
Givarz recalled Ruggerio as a kind soul who always looked out for those less fortunate then him. He said Ruggerio developed a reputation over the years as the man to go to when one needed help, whether it was a job, a place to live or a little extra money to get over a rough patch.
“The stories about his philanthropy and charity were legendary around the Boardwalk,” he said. “He was always there with a little extra money or a place to stay for those who needed a leg up. We don’t know half of what he did because he never made a big deal about it.”
Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin also praised Ruggerio for both his charitable nature and the quiet way in which he went about his philanthropy.
“If only half of the stories told about Bo were true, he would still be a legend in downtown Ocean City,” he said. “Bo will be sorely missed in downtown Ocean City.”
Irwin praised Ruggerio for keeping his pulse on the downtown area, whether it was a boardroom or the Boardwalk.
“What always impressed me about Bo was his knowledge about downtown happenings,” he said. “He always knew everything going on in the downtown area and that’s because he knew everyone on a firsthand basis.”